In front of a modest and impartial crowd at Nippert Stadium on the Campus at Clifton on Senior Night, the University of Cincinnati was "in the dark" all night long in their 38-0 "character builder" defeat at the hands of West Virginia Wednesday night.
"Along with Penn State and Louisville, this team is as good as any we've played – they can play with or beat anybody," said UC Head Coach Mark Dantonio. "They're the first team to shut us out this season."
According to Dantonio, this game really showed the level to which UC is going to have to get to in order to make themselves truly competitive in this league.
"They were faster than us overall –they've got some pretty good sized guys too," said a joking Dantonio. "Not to discredit our guys, but this is what the Big East is all about and this is what we are going to have to compete with. We have a lot to work on, and there is a lot we can take from this. I respect this coaching staff and this program immensely, and it's pretty clear why they are atop the Big East right now."
The Bearcats struggled all game to find a way to stop the potent West Virginia rushing attack while finding a way to get in the end zone. Not even "greater" powers were able to slow down the Mountaineers. A 10-minute delay caused by a power outage in the field lights did little to slow the WVU attack, as they immediately came out and moved the ball down field with ease.
"In my experience when you are able to run the ball effectively, for two-hundred yards, almost three, and stop them on the other end, and force turnovers, you are going to win football games," said Dantonio. "That is what West Virginia was able to accomplish on the field today and we weren't."
In Dantonio's tenure at UC no truer words have ever come from his mouth, as it was quite evident that the Mountaineers quick-strike offensive attack was something that UC could not contend with, while the other side of the ball saw the Bearcats lack any real "mustard" of their own.
Led by their lightning in a bottle quarterback Pat White, the Mountaineers rushed for 297 yards on 50 carries.
"He's an exciting runner that can turn a potentially bad play into a good one, as he did a couple times in the first half," said Dantonio about his explosive foe. On a crucial third-and-14, the ball buried close to the Bearcat end zone on the opening series of the game, White scrambled for 16 yards and killed the energy that the Bearcat portion of the crowd brought to the contest.
White, who rushed the ball just one time more than he threw it on the night, scrambled for 111 yards on just eight carries (long of 34). White completed only seven passes on the night (7-of-12) for 100 yards and a touchdown.
It was not the rushing attack of White alone that helped propel WVU to victory. The backfield of Steve Slaton (25-for-129) and Owen Schmitt (7-for-30) combined for 159 yards and four touchdowns. Steve Slaton accounted for all the Mountaineer rushing scores during the contest, all of which came in the red-zone. The Mountaineers were 5-of-5 in red-zone chances.
"This is sort of a character builder for us," said strong safety Haruki Nakamura. "This allows us to see where we stand and where we need to get to. It is a little difficult to stomach, playing as poorly as we did, but we have to move on from this. They are a really a good team and they have an explosive offense…This is the best team in the conference, I'd say."
In contrast to the explosiveness the Mountaineers showed and the ability to "finish" drives/make plays when they had to, the Bearcats were seldom able to get the ball across the 50-yard line, and ended with no true scoring chances all night.
"It hurts to get shut out and to play as poorly as we did. I take that as little bit of a personal hit" said Bearcat signal caller Dustin Grutza (15-21-110) when asked how the quarterback will respond to being shut out. "They have a really good defense that made plays when they had to. We would start drives and move the ball a little bit, and then all of the sudden they would make a couple plays and stop us or force a turnover."
For the game, the Bearcats gave the ball away three times (two fumbles and an interception) and fumbled the ball two other times that they managed to regain possession.
"You can't give the ball up and expect to win games," said Dantonio. "We did, and they didn't. This team doesn't beat themselves and the scoreboard shows that."
One thing the scoreboard did show was a lack of total yardage for the Bearcats. Even with a late surge of offensive output, the Bearcats were seemingly on the bullied end of a playground tussle all game long. On the game the Bearcat were out-gained 406 to 269, a total less than the Mountaineers rushing output.
The Bearcats managed to conjure up little output on the offensive end either passing the ball or running the ball for most of the night. However, in the end it was the lack of a running attack that really seemed to kill all nine of the ‘Cats lives. Cincinnati rushed the ball 33 times for just 62 net yards. The three-headed monster of Bradley Glatthaar (10-for-38), Butler Benton (5-for-12) and Greg Moore (8-for-9) were held in check all night long, hindering the check-down, bubble-screen passing attack of the Bearcats.
However, as Coach Dantonio stated, there is still a lot for this relatively young team to play for. "We have two games left, a chance at a winning season, and the chance to earn a spot in the bowl game, as well as just the chance to prove ourselves."
The Bearcats will return to the field in 10 days for the first of their two remaining road attempts at earning a bowl bid when they take on Southern Florida.